Ocean meets tech: Marine innovators convene at new bluetech innovation hub in downtown Boston

It’s 2020 and offshore wind farms are no longer an idea of the future; more than half the world’s seafood is produced via aquaculture; and nearly 90% of the world’s goods are transported by sea

The era of the blue economy is here.

In fact, it has been for a while. But amidst rapidly developing tech sectors — and a climate crisis that has 100-year storms threatening coastal cities on a yearly basis,  investors are finally beginning to notice.

CIC has formed a strategic partnership with SeaAhead to convene the future of bluetech and ocean innovation. This burgeoning ecosystem includes startups, technologists, scientists, corporations, governments, and other ocean stakeholders that are coming together to create positive impacts in areas like greener shipping and ports, aquaculture and fisheries, offshore alternative energy, plastic reduction, and smart, resilient cities.

Bluetech trends in the new decade

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Bluetech describes ocean and ocean-adjacent technology that drives environmental, social, and economic sustainability. Companies and governments use blutech to tackle a wide range of challenges — from climate change, coastal erosion, and ocean plastic pollution to shipping logistics and supply chain management. What does that look like in practice? Autonomous underwater gliders, tidal energy generators, macro-algae biofuels, ropeless lobster traps, and app-based marketplaces are a few examples of recent bluetech innovations.

But bluetech doesn’t stop at the beach. Terrestrial and marine ecosystems, industries, and supply chains are not siloed — they all interact and influence each other. All rivers flow to the sea. And then seawater evaporates, condenses, and precipitates back onto the land.

Land-based technology has a history of ocean applications: Wind turbines, first put to the test on hilltops, now operate offshore capturing limitless energy to power cities around the world. Smartphones and QR codes now form the backbone of traceable seafood supply chains. Logistics software ensures that shipping containers don’t leave port partially filled. In the coming years, bluetech innovators will look for numerous more opportunities to adapt land-based technologies to marine industries. 

Boston: Powered by blue

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development projects rapid economic growth tied to the ocean, conservatively estimating that the blue economy — driven by large industries like marine and coastal tourism, offshore energy, manufacturing, and seafood — will double to around $3 trillion. In the US, the blue economy already employs 3.3 million people annually. 

Yet, with ocean health tied to environmental and anthropogenic threats such as climate change, ecosystem degradation, and pollution, investment is seen as inherently risky. Ocean-based investment lags behind investment in related sectors, like clean energy, which reached over $280 billion, globally, in 2019. But as investors realize that bluetech can actually help solve and mitigate these problems, spending and investment will increase. Offshore wind investment received a sizable chunk of that clean energy funding ($29.9 billion) in 2019, growing 19% from the previous year. 

Given that companies are just starting to leverage their tech (think AI, blockchain, wind turbines) in marine industries, the potential of bluetech is enormous. Imagine the opportunities that exist when technology used on 29% of the planet’s surface is applied to the other to 71%.

Why Boston?

With top-notch academic and research institutions, a robust venture ecosystem, and a vibrant tech community, Boston is the logical epicenter for a world-leading bluetech cluster in New England, where roots in the blue economy run deep — from fishing and coastal tourism to ocean exploration, and now offshore wind.

By locating in Boston, the Bluetech Innovation Hub at CIC allows diverse marine stakeholders throughout the region to access a dense concentration of marine assets, an easy drive or train ride away. Collectively, New England has unique resources to fuel innovation across an array of blue economy sectors: from New Bedford, the highest value fishing port in the country, to oceanography research centers in Narragansett and Falmouth, to ocean testing and design facilities at UMass Boston.

Bluetech can also help Boston and its surrounding communities thrive. By tapping into the ocean’s economic potential and engaging multiple relevant sectors, new bluetech ventures can spur growth in healthy, living-wage STEM and manufacturing jobs. 

With 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind planned in Massachusetts by 2027, the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC) estimates the creation of up to 9,800 job-years in planning and development, construction, operations, and maintenance of New England’s offshore wind farms. That includes civil, mechanical, electrical, and environmental engineers, geoscientists, zoologists and wildlife biologists, budget analysts, legal professionals and cost estimators, electricians, steel workers, pile drivers, crane operators, painters, longshoremen, machine operators, commercial divers, construction laborers — all working directly on wind farms, in the supply chain, or on induced impacts.

Industry reports show that these opportunities can help address Massachusetts’ widening income inequality, improve ocean sustainability, and lead to new investment in communities that have not fully participated in recent economic expansion. 

Blue, the color of ocean resilience

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Resilience, in the context of the ocean, often refers to the ability of coastal ecosystems and communities to recover from disasters and threats like hurricanes, floods, and climate change-induced sea level rise. The City of Boston, which sits on land “reclaimed” from the ocean, is making strides in climate change preparedness and designing a resilient waterfront

But bluetech and our blue economy offer resilience beyond climate adaptation and crisis mitigation. As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to wreak havoc, marine innovations offer glimmers of hope. Cameras, combined with AI and machine learning that monitor fishing activities at sea, have reduced the need for human observers on vessels. This increases safety and lowers cost without compromising data quality. 

Other opportunities are being tested and utilized too: App-based marketplaces allow harvesters and seafood dealers to pivot from restaurant to consumer-based sales. And offshore wind offers a potential boost to New England’s economy and an alternative to reliance on foreign oil to power our society.

That being said, technology is not a panacea; technological solutions must fit users’ needs. And, as innovators know all too well, sometimes the first iteration doesn’t work. The Bluetech Innovation Hub intentionally creates space for technologists, entrepreneurs, and stakeholders to work through problems together and make sure that a cool piece of tech is not built just for the sake of building it. 

Engage in open innovation

The Bluetech Innovation Hub at CIC fosters growth of the bluetech sector by enabling ocean and ocean-adjacent innovators and entrepreneurs to have a central coworking and convening location. 

The Bluetech Innovation Hub offers a variety of opportunities for bluetech companies at any stage. Startups, like CoLoadX, have taken advantage of the Blue Angels, SeaAhead’s angel investor group looking for bluetech deals. Corporates, like Moran Shipping Agencies, rely on our innovator network to find the next bluetech tools that help manage port call logistics and environmental compliance. The New England Aquarium, a marine conservation and research leader, has partnered with us to run the BlueSwell Incubator to support the creation and growth of startups with scalable solutions that enhance ocean sustainability and global resilience.

And we’re not limiting ourselves to Boston. CIC locations in Providence, Philadelphia, Miami, Rotterdam, and soon in Tokyo, allow us to connect a global network of bluetech innovators. With innovators and ocean stakeholders working together, we can take advantage of the ocean’s diversity and create positive impact around the world.


For more information about the Bluetech Innovation Hub, bluetech events, networking opportunities, or SeaAhead’s business development and investment opportunities, reach out to Taylor at taylor.witkin@cic.com.

The Work Boston North America